Sharon Byrne, Irish Bookmakers Association:
Securing the future of Irish betting shops

In recent years, the Irish retail betting industry has strengthened its commitment to ensuring responsible gambling, with various initiatives including its Responsible Gambling Week. However, potential tax rises from 1% to 2% could lead to a turbulent 2019 for the sector.

SBC spoke to Sharon Byrne, Chair of the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) about how the future can be secured for Irish betting shops, as well as why the sector will continue to put responsibility at the heart of what it does.

SBC: How can the Irish betting sector ensure that it is best prepared to deal with the tax rises of this year?

Sharon Byrne: The betting sector is still hopeful that the review currently being undertaken by the Department of Finance will highlight the unintended consequences of the 100% increase in betting tax on the retail sector, because it will lead to hundreds of shop closures. 

When loss of taxation from job losses and shop closures is taken into account the Government will yield a lot less tax than the estimates quoted in the budget. The model proposed by the IBA will save most of those jobs and yield the Government more money than the 100% increase would have done. 

SBC: What can be done to secure the status of independent bookmakers despite this year’s tax rise?

The outlook for Independent bookmakers is stark if the proposed 100% increase remains in place. Closures have already started and will no doubt escalate. Value for consumers will also decrease as operators will have to pare back on added value given to customers, just to try to survive.

SBC: Do you anticipate the tax increases will have impact on responsible gambling amongst Irish bettors?

I have no doubt that responsible gambling measures and processes inside licensed betting shops will be unaffected, but as shops close, business in those areas will no doubt filter to illegal operators who have zero customer monitoring or protections in place.

SBC: How important is it that the Irish betting sector continues to focus on improving social responsibility?

Focus on Social Responsibility has been to the fore of the IBA and it’s members’ business and strategy for a long time now. However, technology is providing new ways of presenting information and trends.   

This can help us to improve our core aim which is to ensure that gambling is a fun, adult leisure activity, but must accompanied by measures and supports for those people that it could or has become a problem for.

Provision of the best training for staff and information and support services that are readily available for people affected is critical. Our members will continue to fund provision of professional services in this area and to develop their own codes of practice relating to customer protections in line with any improvements or recommendations made by the IBA or new regulator.

SBC: How much could Irish racing be impacted by the government’s decision to increase taxes on betting shops?

Irish racing will be very anxious about the number of closures looming in both Ireland and the UK. We estimate 300-400 Irish shops will close if the 100% increase remains in place.

Apart from the fact that there will be much less shops promoting Irish racing as a product because they are closed, the commercial revenue for Irish racing pictures and data is dependent on shop numbers, so it will be affected once a certain level of closures is reached.

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